Racing to the finish line

Southern Ute tribal member, Gracelin Naranjo takes a break from riding her dirt bike long enough to stand for a portrait, Monday, July 2. At age 13, Naranjo is top of her class in National Motocross standings following the recent qualifiers in Pala, Calif.
Grace Naranjo is one of many young tribal members who have taken an interest in motocross and arenacross as a competitive sport.
Gracelin “Grace” Naranjo catches some air on a practice run, Naranjo and other local motocross riders, generally head to Farmington, N.M. to get their bikes on the dirt during the racing season.
Practice makes perfect, Southern Ute tribal member, Gracelin Naranjo rides late into the afternoon, training for her upcoming race in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Photo Courtesy of Nick Naranjo
Photo Courtesy of Nick Naranjo
Photo Courtesy of Mandy Naranjo

Southern Ute rider shines in motocross qualifiers

Gracelin Naranjo is just thirteen years old, a student at the middle school in neighboring Bayfield, Colo., she started racing dirt bikes less than a year ago. In a few weeks’ time, she will be heading to the Loretta Lynn AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, alongside her family.  More impressively, is the fact that in her recent race standings, Naranjo is now ranked in the top 42 among riders in her age bracket — Girls, 11-16 age class — following the recent qualifiers held in Pala, Calif., June 9-10.

“My uncle, aunt and cousins were all racing dirt bikes, and I thought it would be fun,” Gracelin Naranjo said in regards to her sudden, and successful entry into the sport of motocross racing. “It was hard getting used to the clutch at first, shifting the bike — I practiced riding for about six months before racing.”

Naranjo has one local sponsor, Fast Lane Motorsports. Her father, Nick Naranjo hopes that a strong race in Tennessee later this month will attract more. “Sponsors would help with race fees, bikes, tires, helmets and other costs,” Nick said, who added, “I’m excited for Tennessee — harder track, it’s going to be wet and muddy, with lots of ruts and much more competitive riders.” At the end of the day he explained, “We’re just going out to have some fun and see what it is all about — not expecting a win, maybe in the future.”

Numerous families within the Southern Ute community have picked up dirt biking as a hobby, seeing motocross as an alternative to more traditional sports such as basketball or volleyball. Young tribal members of all ages, and their parents are now riding and competing year-round. “I would like to have a track around here — to practice more, and meet other riders,” Grace said.

Families often carpool or caravan to nearby locations such as Aztec or Farmington, N.M. to practice and train. “We go racing as a family, and spend time together,” Nick said. “I also encourage others to get out, get involved, have fun, get muddy. Motocross is about what you can do as an individual — it’s more personal.” When the outdoor motocross season comes to a close, arenacross events are held indoors for the moto enthusiasts.

Gracelin Naranjo’s first serious race was the Arizona Open which took place back in December of 2017. “It’s definitely been a learning experience,” Grace said. “A lot of time on the bike, and a lot of training.” Naranjo races on a TM100, an Italian made dirt bike set up with more power, specifically for racing. She started on a smaller, KX85 made by Kawasaki. Naranjo enjoys racing arenacross as much as competing under blue skies. She and her family have traveled to race qualifiers throughout the Western United States: Albuquerque, Denver, Farmington, N.M. and even as far as Pala, Calif. and Amarillo, Texas.

In terms of her upcoming race in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. Nick feels good about his daughter’s foray into the national race circuit. “It’s more of a learning experience to see how it would be for her to race against more experienced competitors — to see where she could go competitively as a rider.” The Loretta Lynn AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship takes place from Monday, July 30 — Saturday, Aug. 4 in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. The race will be aired live on YouTube.


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